Friday, 11 December 2009

Short Circuit Blog Tour - Editing and Redrafting - In Conversation with Vanessa Gebbie

Welcome to the first Blog Interview at Writer's Little Helper.

Vanessa Gebbie, short story writer, editor for Short Circuit has kindly agreed to a quick Q&A session as part of the Short Circuit Blog tour. Short Circuit is the ideal book to buy the writer in your life this Christmas. 24 essays written by award winning writers and tutors talk you through the writing process and get you thinking more about your own techniques too.

Short Circuit is the kind of book I wished was around when I did my Masters and Degree. This book has a different author for each chapter as they explore the important elements of a short story. Reading their writing process is more insightful to a writer rather than the 'How to' approach that you find in most creative writing books. As well as using the advice for short story writing I also believe you can adapt some of the ideas for novel writing too. The reading lists and short exercises at the end of each chapter are really great for writers block cures!

Vanessa has already talked to Nik Perring and Sophie Playle about the formation of the book. So, I have gone for something a bit different. I have asked Vanessa some questions about editing and redrafting. I hope you find the interview interesting. I know I will as the next stage for me after the first draft of my novel will be editing and I am currently craving any advice at the moment.

Editing and Redrafting
After writing a story do you hide the file away before editing or do you jump straight in with the editing?
There isn’t a single answer to this one. Sometimes, (and certainly when I started writing) I tip out a whole first draft without looking back at all, then go back in later and edit. Sometimes, I get the sense that it is OKish, and the editing is done straight away.
Now, I do wait. Sometimes I wait a long time, before looking at a piece. For example, I wrote about 10,000 wds in Ireland in September, and haven’t read it back yet.
But often, now, I am editing in my head all the time. I will go back and re-read a paragraph, and think ‘I can’t write the next one unless this building block is solid’. That is a real pain. It slows everything up. I get quite scared that I’m editing the life out of the thing.
A lot of writers like to edit and redraft from the computer screen. I like to print off my manuscript and scribble notes to myself. How do you edit your work?
I do the sort of editing described above on screen. Reading through the para I did last and tweaking before starting the next.
But when a piece is completed at first draft stage I print off, curl up in a chair away from my study with a cuppa and a pen and edit like that. I read out loud and mark the paper copy. I scribble out bits I don’t like, and scribble whole new paras on the back of the paper. I make notes in the margin, things to think about. Or just ‘THIS FEELS WRONG’ in capitals if I don’t know why… it just does.
Then I go back to the study and incorporate the edits. And start the process again, until I am happyish. But I always save the previous copy as well… I don’t delete versions.
Do you find peer editing (online forums, swapping with writing friends) useful or do you benefit more from redrafting on your own? Or a mixture of both?
I was taught by a tutor who pointed out the inadvisability of relying on other writers to guide the editing process. He point was to make us aware of our own work, our own ‘right and wrong’, to create our own stories, not a committee effort which by definition would be a compromise effort.
So although I value feedback as to whether something is working, whether my intentions have come across, I know that in the end it’s just me and the words, and I can’t hide from the fact that I ought to be able to see what is good and what isn’t.
I know that peer feedback is valuable. But I (and others) had our work and ideas stolen by a colleague working in a closed private online group earlier this year. That has made things a bit lonelier for me, as I don’t know many writers living nearby. I will not share anything online now, unless it is just little instant flash pieces. I certainly would not share my novel online now, or longer work of any sort. Indeed, if something I write for an online thing strikes me as interesting, something I might use in another guise later – I will not share. Once bitten twice shy.
I do work face to face with a friend and colleague whose integrity is beyond question. He is a journalist, a playwright, writer of best-seller non-fiction books, and now a novelist. He gives encouragement when things fall badly, and he gives intelligent, considered comment.
I listen to what he says very carefully, and wait. Then I do final edits, sometimes using what he has said, sometimes not. In the end, it has to be mine and I am guided by some inner voice that says yes or no.
Are you a multi-tasker writer? Can you write one story and do editing within the same session? Or do you like to keep both separate, no new stories until the editing is done?
If I get an idea for something else while editing, I won’t let it go without making notes, often extensive ones. I may even start to write… I think if you try to control the flow of creativity, it shows in the work, it becomes controlled in a bad way.
In your blog post, ‘Aftershock,’ you talked about feeling ‘flat.tired.low’ after completing Short Circuit. What did you do to break out of the aftershock?
I am quite pathetic. When I have finished something, or achieved something (that includes winning a prize, sadly) there is a period of intense flatness. Almost depression. A sense that that’s one mountain climbed, and now there’s just another rearing up ahead.
What do I do? This time, I stayed in bed for a morning, with my laptop and MADE myself write a part of the ‘novel’. It didn’t matter how bad that bit was, I just wrote, to remind myself I could. I’d put it aside for the best part of a year, because it is very hard to edit and compile and cajole others in a project like Short Circuit- and have the inner peace needed to write creatively.
Its an instant fix. I reminded myself I was a writer. And felt better!
Any other techniques you would like to share with regards to editing and redrafting?
The only technique I’d share is the advice to try everything. Not to get stuck thinking ‘THIS is the only way to do things’. I think we change day on day week on week, year on year. I know my approaches to writing have shifted enormously. See the evidence in my answers to your editing questions above!
That’s why I did Short Circuit the way I did. I know from experience that a how-to- book is only as good as the practice of the writers who are giving advice. If that advice is from one writer, who says ‘Do this. Because I do it, and it works for me’, then forget it. They are not YOU!
The point was to give you a whole raft of examples, for you to feel instinctively which chimes with you at this point in your journey. Craft is craft – but the application of that craft can be an exciting adventure in which the writer steps into the unknown every time they sit down to write. Your creativity is unique to you. And mine is unique to me. I just wanted to help others see that – for them to recognise and relish their uniqueness. That’s the way for people to nurture that spark which sets their creativity apart from the plodding masses who faithfully copy the processes of others.

Fantastic questions, Jessica! Thanks such a lot. And because I am hooked on William Faulkner quotes, can I finish with one?

“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.”
Isn’t that fantastic!

Thanks Vanessa for some great answers and quote!

Short Circuit can be purchased over at the Salt Publishing website with 20% discount.


Vanessa Gebbie said...

Thanks Jessica - some terrific questions, and I am so glad you liked the book!

Nik Perring said...

Great interview, you two. Thank you!

Teresa Stenson said...

Really interesting, thanks to you both.

Love the Faulkner quote, too.

essygie said...

very interesting interview - going to put the book on my xmas wish list!

Jessica said...

HI Guys, thanks for the great comments :)